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Archived news items from February 2002
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news from March 2002

Wednesday, 20 February 2002 [21:41 CST]

I'm in the middle of the crazy season at school. It's not crazy as in busy, just as in weird.

The six weeks grading period ended Friday, but I gave my students an extra day to work on their projects. Then I was up at school late Monday evening grading them all. This time I did something a little different for the grading, which I think gave better feedback but didn't take any more time. And that's a good thing.

This week is C.O.O.L. week, and so most of my juniors are out in the workplace learning about jobs related (usually) to their field of interest. It's also T.A.A.S. week, so all the sophomores and a handful of juniors and seniors that didn't pass it the first time are taking The Test. So all teachers are helping administer the test in some fashion, and all morning classes are cancelled yesterday, today and Thursday. Freshmen, seniors and non-C.O.O.L.-week juniors don't have to show up until 11:47, when we have our last two periods and then go home. Friday is a "normal" day.

Next week is Leander's annual Continuous Improvement Conference, which takes three days where the kids are off. They come back for full days Thursday and Friday next week, making it literally two weeks since I will have seen some of my juniors. Then one full week of school and then a week of Spring Break. And you know the week before Spring Break is never usually very productive.

So, it's hard to get anything covered these days. And after Spring Break, it's a mad rush until the end of the year.

In other big news: my brother, the lovely and talented Paul Mitchell, was in town this last weekend. Originally he was going to play at a coffeehouse thing Friday evening and I was going to back him up, but that fell through. Since he'd already asked off for work he decided to come anyway. He was here Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.

We had fun cooking and recording several of his songs (the gig is rescheduled for April) so I can learn them. We went music shopping, watched some Adult Swim, modified some capos and generally hung out like only brothers can do. It was nice to see him.

Not much else to report except that previously mentioned computer science student Cody Wyers was the first to be awarded one of my five extra Ogg Vorbis T-shirts, for "wanting it really bad."

Oh, and today is a palindromic date if you write it the European way: 20/02/2002. And there's extra goodness at 8:02 P.M. (a.k.a. 20:02). The European way is better than the stupid American way of month/day/year because at least theirs gets increasingly less specific: day < month < year. Every good computer scientist ought to flip that method around though and write the date as 2002-02-20 because written that way, dates alphabetize in chronological order, which neither the American or European systems do.

Wednesday, 13 February 2002 [23:55 CST]

In about a week it'll be one year since this page moved to it's own domain name. Time for a web recap for those who haven't been reading this page for years.

I taught myself HTML way back in 1994 while a computer science student at the University of Texas at Austin. I had a stupid page up on the web space provided by the University. At this point the number of web sites could be measured in millions (it's over 2 billion today), and the web had just passed up telnet to become the second-most popular service on the Internet (behind ftp). The page was dumb but featured a few images, including one of the green guy from the cover of the Hitchhiker's Guide novels. Fortunately for everybody, this page is lost forever.

In the spring of 1995, I took an English course called "Computers and Writing", where we covered online culture and had to turn in a few assignments as web pages. This prompted a major site redesign, which I had thought was lost forever, but was fortunately archived by the fine folks at The Internet Archive. (This version of the page is from December of 1996.) By this time, I was making my own images, including the signature "-g-" you see in the lower-right of each page. This was made by writing the 'g' (which was my typical signature for things not requiring a legal signature) with a Sharpie on a blank sheet of paper, scanning it into a scanner at the (then new) Student Microcomputer Facility at school, then converting it into the smallest two-color transparent GIF I could manage. I did the cross and the buttons in Paint Shop Pro. This was a design I was proud of, but it didn't attract many visitors because it never changed (well, rarely anyway).

I graduated from college in the spring of 1997 and thus lost my free web space. The pages were moved verbatim to the web space provided by my new Internet service provider, Onramp Access. I soon got a job teaching and so I changed all the "graham"s on the page to "mitchell"s since I knew I'd have students reading the page, but that's about it. Maybe I had a resume or some such up there as well.

In the summer of 1998 I was getting tired of a quite stale web page, so I read up on the new HTML standard at the time (4.0) and on this new thing called "style sheets". I worked on a new design, and by August 6 I had totally redesigned the site (again courtesy of The Internet Archive, this snapshot from August 2000). This design proved much more popular, since the home page actually had stuff on it, and the weblog format lent itself to frequent updating. In fact, within a couple of months, I was averaging two hits a day! This was way up from the (approximately) two hits a month I'd been getting for the several years previous.

This design persisted until my purchase of the grahammitchell.net domain in February of 2001, which prompted a total redesign of the site. The redesign was done February 19, and so the new domain name went live. As the number of former students checking this page has grown, so has its popularity. I'm now averaging around 35 hits a day, which is psycho high considering that I'm just a guy with a not very interesting life.

I am thankful for all the visitors that make this page worth updating. Plus, these rants serve as a good journal for me, since I don't update my real journal often enough. There was a time when I could have fairly easily thanked each of my readers personally; I guess that'd be a little harder now. It's amazing the influence one person can have.


In more present news, a recap of the last several days. The singing on Sunday went really well. That afternoon I went hiking at Twin Falls (off 360) with Bob, his fiancée and another girl (no, Mom. No one special). We spent about two and half hours and maybe went five miles. It was cool and some good exercise for me.

In my weekly tutoring session, Jesse finished the pre-Algebra book he's been working on since about a year ago. We're taking a week off, and then he'll start right into Saxon's Algebra I book.

My kids started their Six Weeks Projects today. It's a mad rush to the end of the year at this point. Cool.

And after vocal rehearsal this Tuesday, I'm pumped about this Sunday. Should be an awesome service, and the music looks to be great.

Oh, and happy Singleness Awareness Day, or whatever you call it.

Saturday, 9 February 2002 [22:34 CST]

I've had so much free time the past week, I haven't updated the web page at all! It all started last Friday, when a package arrived in my classroom containing six Ogg Vorbis T-shirts. I had told the Ogg Vorbis mailing list about my modifications to ogg123, the changeover of my jukebox from mp3s to oggs, and how I'd explained to my students why mp3 was bad (both technically and ethically) and why Vorbis was better. Jack Moffitt, one of the lead programmers, mailed me personally:

Wow :)  You're the computer teacher I always wanted.

Send me your address and preferred size and I'll see if I have an extra 
shirt available :)

I hadn't mentioned it before because I wasn't sure if he was kidding. But when not one or two but six shirts showed up, I knew Ogg Vorbis was the way to go. As I told my students (who are now fighting over the five extra shirts): If the mp3 people had known I had a hard drive full of mp3s, they would have sent lawyers to sue me into oblivion. But when the Vorbis people find out I have a drive full of oggs, they send T-shirts.

Inspired by the shirts and by my newfound free time, I volunteered to write any documentation the project needs. My first gig is a tutorial on compressed audio. Here was the "assignment" (taken from the vorbis-dev mailing list):

Hanging around #vorbis, I can tell you that a lot of people show up with
misconceptions about compressed (especially lossy) audio.  An introduction to
the area which uses Vorbis as the specific example would be a nice thing.  
Most people learned about lossy audio from MP3 and some have assigned
attributes of MP3 to Vorbis incorrectly.  Such a document would also have
some tutorial aspects as well.

So on Wednesday I wrote it and posted a first draft. I got lots of good feedback via email and on the mailing list, so I updated a lot of things on Thursday night. And all day today I've basically been working on it, completely rewriting one section and adding a couple of helpful diagrams. I think it's nearing its final form, so I'm ready to post a link. Of course, once it's complete it'll presumably move to somewhere on vorbis.com.

Check out the images especially. I generated the basic waves with some very ugly Java, then used The GIMP (a nice image manipulation program) to snap a screenshot, and then cleaned it up and labelled it.

Anyway, I'm pleased with the results. Once I get this finished up, I may tackle the FAQ next.

In other news, I judged the Leander High School talent show again this year. There were many good acts, including Kristin (one of the girls who sings on Lakeline's praise team, who's a junior at LHS). The winner was a drummer, who just improvised a several minute drum solo on a monster trap set. It was good to get to see so many talented acts (though this year all but one (the infamous Chili Insano) were musical).

I got a chance to eat at Wendy's last Friday, and the food was very good. I think Wendy's probably has the freshest food of any of the national fast food chains. I'd been meaning to get there ever since Dave Thomas passed away, and since I was staying late to see some of my students dance in their yearly competition (including Kristin, coincidentally), it was a perfect opportunity.

Last week at church, we kicked off our series on "Signs" with the Five Man E-Band song of the same name (or Tesla's if you're younger), and I sang it. This week, it's Alabama. Just call me Mr. Karaoke.

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